An ambitious interreligious dialogue.
In 1997, the famous Vietnamese Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh published Living Buddha, Living Christ, an effort to bring the founders of two of the major world religions into conversation. His hope was to show that the two traditions have more in common than perhaps we’d otherwise think. In his new book, Ho adopts Hanh’s recipe but adds an extra flavor—Daoism—with the aim of creating a spiritual synthesis of not two but three great faiths. For Ho, the shared essence of the traditions boils down to a helpful acronym: LIFE. L is love; I is insight, “an understanding that since Life is really our greatest treasure, we must not mistake means for ends”; F is fortitude, which “means we will never give up”; and E is engagement, meaning “that as long as we live, we are in action.” And LIFE is, according to Ho, the core message of Jesus, Buddha and the Daoist teacher Laozi. To prove his point, Ho charts a wandering path through pieces of each of these three religions. He opens with a number of brief essays on the spiritual meaning of Christianity and then switches to a poetic mode, delivering dozens of miscellaneous verses on topics such as the beauty of the butterfly, the vocation of the economist, the sorry state of Israel and the Japanese prime minister’s controversial visit to a Shinto shrine. Ho then shifts once more, providing new translations of three seminal Asian religious texts: Zen Buddhism’s Song of the Truthful Mind, the Buddha’s Heart Sutra and Laozi’s famous Daodejing. The problem with Ho’s book, however, is that he barely explains how these disparate pieces fit together or how they support his claim that Buddhism, Daoism and Christianity are compatible. Further, it’s also unclear why we need new English translations of these venerable scriptures when so many good ones already exist.
A religious puzzle the author never quite completes.